A guide to in vitro fertilization (IVF) - Ruth Health

A guide to in vitro fertilization (IVF)

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Fast facts:

  • In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a type of fertility treatment in which eggs are fertilized with sperm outside of the body.
  • The process typically takes about four to six weeks from beginning to end, starting with the use of medications that stimulate egg growth.
  • IVF may be an appropriate option for those experiencing fallopian tube damage, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), low sperm count, poor sperm motility, and other fertility issues.
  • The process is also necessary to conceive with donor sperm or eggs or when using a surrogate.

Many individuals and couples experiencing infertility are able to have biological children through fertility treatments. IVF, or in vitro fertilization, is one of the possible paths to parenthood. 

This form of assisted reproductive technology (ART) has helped millions of individuals conceive throughout the past four decades.

If you are considering IVF, here’s an overview of what to expect.

What is IVF?

IVF is a type of fertility treatment in which eggs are retrieved from the ovaries, fertilized with sperm outside of the body, and then implanted into the uterus with the potential outcome of a pregnancy. There are three main phases.

Phase 1: Ovarian Stimulation

During this phase of IVF, a variety of medications are used to stimulate egg growth. These medications are typically administered as nightly injections. 

Medication protocol is unique to each individual, with prescriptions and doses based on hormone levels.

This phase typically takes 1-2 weeks, with 5-7 doctor’s appointments for monitoring. Medication protocols are often adjusted after appointments, as hormone levels fluctuate.

Phase 2: Egg Retrieval

After the medications have stimulated egg growth, your doctor will retrieve as many mature eggs as possible from the ovaries. 

This is done through a 15-45-minute minimally invasive procedure, performed under sedation to prevent pain.

Phase 3: Egg Fertilization

The retrieved eggs are fertilized with sperm, from a partner or donor, before being transferred to your uterus through another non-invasive procedure.

The fertilization process is monitored over several days to ensure that the eggs have successfully begun to split.

Eggs do not have to be transferred right away, and you can schedule a date that works best for you and your family building goals.

Many individuals who hope to conceive another child through IVF in the future store embryos from this cycle for later use. (The longest documented successful embryo freezing is 24 years, but it can theoretically be done indefinitely.)

Phase 4: Embryo Transfer

In the final phase of IVF, the embryo is transferred to your uterus through another non-invasive procedure.

Many individuals take progesterone or estrogen supplements during this stage to support successful implantation of the embryo.

How long is a typical IVF cycle?

The process typically lasts about four to six weeks from beginning to end, meaning from the beginning of ovarian stimulation medications to a pregnancy test after the embryo transfer.

How successful is IVF?

While IVF is generally successful, multiple IVF cycles are common.

Those who conceive through the process need an average of 2.7 cycles to become pregnant, and your chances of conceiving increase with several attempts.

There are many factors involved in IVF success, including age, lifestyle factors like smoking and alcohol use, and the underlying cause of your infertility.

Who is IVF for?

There are many reasons to pursue IVF.

It is often an option for couples and individuals affected by the following causes of infertility:

  • Blocked or damaged fallopian tubes
  • Endometriosis
  • Low sperm count
  • Poor sperm motility
  • Ovarian conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Unexplained infertility

Keep in mind that there are many types of fertility issues and IVF is just one of many fertility treatments. The best treatment for you depends on the cause of your or your partner’s infertility. 

For individualized treatment recommendations, consult with a fertility specialist about your options.

IVF is necessary to conceive with a donor egg or sperm or when using a surrogate. It can also be used if you have a genetic disease or other health condition that could potentially be passed on to your baby.

How can I make IVF more affordable?

Managing the costs of IVF can be one of the more overwhelming parts of the process. Fortunately, there are many ways to ease the financial burden.

Explore potential financial resources at the beginning of your family building journey so that you can anticipate the total cost and plan accordingly.

There are many factors involved in the cost of IVF — and many moving parts involved in treatment — so it may be difficult to accurately predict all expenses. However, you should be able to have a general sense to guide your planning process.

Here are some of the main sources of financial assistance for your IVF journey:

  • Health insurance: Coverage of fertility treatment varies by insurance plan. Start your financial planning by verifying your policy’s details, if applicable. If you do have fertility coverage, follow-up questions are often necessary to get a clearer picture of your expenses. Ask your insurance company which types of fertility treatments are covered, and if your benefits include initial consultations, diagnostic testing, and medications.
  • Employee IVF benefits: Also check your employer’s coverage of fertility treatment, as more companies have begun to offer these benefits. If fertility treatment is not covered by your company, don’t be afraid to start the conversation. RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association has a toolkit to support employees seeking family building benefits.
  • Fertility financing: Many clinics offer no- or low-interest finding. Ask about clinic financial resources while researching your options. (Some smaller clinics may be open to negotiating, especially if you’ve already completed one or more cycles.) In addition, some companies provide personal loans for fertility treatments.
  • Grants: Some nonprofits and private companies offer grants that cover the cost of fertility treatment. As a starting point, explore RESOLVE’s database of funding opportunities.
  • Fertility medication savings: Many manufacturers of fertility medications offer patient assistance programs or copay cards to help offset a portion of medication costs, which factor significantly into the overall cost of an IVF cycle.

If you have additional questions regarding infertility or IVF, consult your physician or trusted healthcare professional to discuss diagnosis and treatment options.

At Ruth Health, we understand that nobody knows what you need better than you. We provide expert, evidence-based maternal advice so that you can make the best decisions for yourself.

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